REVISED plans for a controversial development of more than 600 houses in the Central Coast township of Catherine Hill Bay were rejected by an independent panel appointed by the State Government.
The Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel's report, which has been withheld from the public for almost five months by the Minister for Planning, Frank Sartor, recommended he defer consideration of Rose Property Group's project until the plans were changed for a second time.
The company, which lobbied hard to have its project included in a housing strategy for the area, donated $143,000 to the Labor Party's NSW branch between 2005 and 2007, according to NSW Election Funding Authority records.
The panel of three, led by a former chief of Sydney Water and senior planning official, Gabrielle Kibble, said there were still "significant concerns about the development in its revised form", including its visibility from the township and the size of the commercial buildings.
Panel members were also concerned about bushfire risk, the height and density of some of homes and a lack of public access to beaches.
In September the company lodged a second plan for the development after the panel said the original proposal did not comply with Government guidelines.
The final report recently came to light after residents searched through 50 boxes of documents about Government dealings with developers that were lodged with the clerk of Parliament in response to a parliamentary call for papers on the development.
A spokeswoman for Mr Sartor said he could not make a decision about the development without the advice of his department, "which must carefully assess the merits of all proposals".
"The department's final assessment report will take into account the IHAP recommendations, and both reports will be put to the minister before he makes a final determination," the spokeswoman said.
"We understand the proponent lodged a preferred project/revised concept plan in late February 2008, and it was made available on the department's website. The department is in the process of assessment of these plans."
A Rose joint managing director, Bryan Rose, said in a news release: "Now that the final report of the independent advisory panel has been made public - and the Rose Group proposal complies with all its requirements - I expect the progress association to endorse it as the best conservation and public access outcome for Catherine Hill Bay."
Asked how the company could be complying with the panel's requirements when it only saw the report yesterday, a spokesman said it had again revised its plans to take into account residents' concerns. Residents said they had neither seen nor been told of further revisions.
The president of the Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association, Sue Whyte, said: "We hope that the Government will take into account the independent panel's fair and objective report and consider its recommendations that the proposed development be revised in accordance with planning principles.
"It is puzzling that the Government has kept this report secret for five months and has only released it because it is under pressure for signing deals with developers who have made significant donations to the NSW Labor Party."